This is a small-scale, later copy of the vast canvas by Rubens, depicting Henry IV being presented with a portrait of Marie de' Medici by Cupid and Hymenaios, the god of marriage. That work measures 394 x 295 cm. and forms part of the cycle of twenty-four paintings depicting the 'Life of Marie de' Medici', today on display at the Louvre, Paris.1
The series was commissioned by Marie de' Medici, widow of Henry IV, in 1621, for the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, to be completed to coincide with the marriage of her daughter Henrietta Maria to Charles I of England, in 1624 (see portraits of both in this sale - Lots 40, 42 and 46). Twenty-one of the canvases depict Marie's life and the three remaining paintings consist of portraits of her and her parents. It was one of the first major series to celebrate the life of a woman, and provided Rubens with the opportunity to demonstrate all his artistic ingenuity and knowledge of classical literature.
The present image clearly equates the French monarchy with the deities of classical mythology – Jupiter and Juno are depicted as an ideal of marital harmony, surveying Henry IV as he falls in love with the image of Marie de' Medici. A personification of France stands behind Henry, also showing her approval of the future union and sovereignty. In reality Henry and Marie did indeed exchange a number of portraits. They were married by proxy on 5 October 1600.
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